Dead Funny

Date 24th May 2019
Society Northern Comedy Theatre
Venue The Citadel, St. Helens
Type of Production Play
Director Shaun Chambers

Report

Author: Jim Briscoe

Terry Johnson's hilarious comedy of mortality and marriage was premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in January 1994. This second edition was published for the West End revival in October 2016 at the Vaudeville Theatre, London. While Eleanor wants a child, her partner, Richard, is too busy running the Dead Funny Society. But in a week when British comedy heroes Frankie Howard and Benny Hill both kick the bucket, the society gather for a celebration, which promises to be full of hilarity and laughter well, for everybody except the disgruntled Eleanor anyhow. Complete with custard pie fights, innuendos galore and tributes to some of Britain’s greatest comedians, Dead Funny will make you laugh and cry.

Congratulations to Shaun Chambers (Director) for his great adaptation of this slightly risqué, slightly rude, yet hilariously funny play!  Shaun had a great cast at his disposal, all of whom appeared completely devoid of any inhibitions or awkwardness as they gave us a performance which they should all be really proud of.

I’d go so far as to say that there were no actual leading actors in this play.....just an ensemble who oozed great ‘team togetherness’ and ‘comic timing’ which was evident throughout.

The opening scene shows our ‘physically estranged’ married couple ‘Eleanor’ played by Kathryn Chambers and ‘Richard’ played by John Duffy attempting to ‘reacquaint themselves’ using weekly tactics advised by their therapist.  Things don’t go well and as with any good farce...their attempt at ‘intimacy’ is interrupted.  There are many sides to these two characters, and Kathryn and John were able to exploit most with ease.  Two great performances...be proud!

The cause of many of their interruptions, including one in the opening scene, is their ‘pal’ ‘Brian’ played by Phil Gwilliam. A sad, awkward, clumsy sort of guy, who, later in the play, decides it’s time for him to ‘come out of the closet’!  He arrives just as ‘Eleanor’ is giving a ‘semi naked’ ‘Richard’ a massage, to announce the ‘Death of Benny’.  Again, brilliantly cast, great performance, looked at ease with everything that was thrown at him...well done sir!

And our second married couple ‘Lisa’ played by Alicia Stroud and ‘Nick’ played by Danny Fahey arrive early to collect their baby, who is being babysat by ‘Eleanor’.  Alicia produced a fantastic performance as the bimbo, clairvoyant mother!  Her natural timing, comedic characterisation of ‘Lisa’ was to be applauded and that ‘forward roll’ over the couch...’poetry in motion’ amazing! PS: Lisa has a secret!  Danny is brilliant as the ‘narky’ high school science teacher; great characterisation and comedic timing.  PS: Danny also has a secret... a secret that he hasn’t shared with his wife or anyone, until he shares it with ‘Richard’!  PS: guess what: ‘Richard’ also has a secret....

There were so many ‘memorable moments’ from this production and so many ‘great one liners’ rekindled from our ‘dead comedians’. My favourite moment had to be the chase scene taken from the film 'Whatever Happened To Benny Hill' – the way it was introduced, built up and executed around the set was brilliant. Running it a close second was the ‘Boom Ooh Yatatata’ sketch; this was hilarious!  What also impressed me and it’s not easily achieved – ‘silence’!  There were moments in the production when ‘nothing was being said’ ....’silence’; done right, as it was on a number of occasions, ever so powerful...well done cast!

A ‘HU’ is all it takes for all those ‘secrets’ to come flooding to the fore!  First ‘Eleanor’ realises that ‘Philip’ and ‘Lisa’ are having an affair.  ‘Philip’ then realises that he is the father of ‘Lisa’s’ baby as does ‘Nick’....the mayhem that occurs was ‘slapstick’ at its best...’Custard Pies’, ‘Full Bowls of Trifle’ are placed/thrown in and over people’s heads and faces. ‘Pork Pies’ ‘Sausage Rolls’ are hurled around the stage and a ‘Soda Siphon’ almost drowns an actor.. an amazing scene! 

The culmination/finale: After much apologising, ‘Lisa’ leaves with her baby as does an unhappy, yet surprisingly calm, ‘Nick’.  ‘Eleanor’ tells ‘Richard’ that she knows the baby is his and that he can either sleep with her or leave...’Richard’ packs his bags and leaves. ‘Brian’ is then left alone with ‘Eleanor’ and comforts her. ‘Eleanor’, realising how lonely she will be asks ‘Brian’ to stay, which he does! ‘Brian’ tries to make ‘Eleanor’ feel better and touches her breast, just to let her know that she’s still attractive! The play ends with ‘Brian’ and ‘Eleanor’ singing, what else but Frankie Howard classic! 

The play used a single set which was perfect and provided a brilliant backdrop for the entire production.  Lighting was excellent. Props were appropriate and in keeping with the production. Just ‘loved’ the ‘skeleton’ in the corner with the Tommy Cooper ‘Red Fez’.......  

As The Citadel closes its doors in June, I really do hope that this isn’t the last time I have the ‘privilege and the pleasure’ to see the ever so talented Northern Comedy Theatre in action! Let’s all pray that a St Helens location can be found that is fit for purpose for you to carry on performing.

If it is to be the last performance in St Helens, then this was a fabulous way to say goodbye. The cast were amazing and provided us with an outstanding performance and a brilliant night out. Thank you so much for inviting my wife and I, for making us laugh out loud and I just hope my laughter didn’t trouble the cast to much!